Ricky Lau Koon-wai’s box-office hit Mr. Vampire (1985) initiated a series of Hong Kong jianghsi, or hopping vampire, films in the 1980s. Mixing horror, comedy and martial arts, and borrowing eclectically from Chinese folklore and Hollywood horror films, these films are unabashedly hybrid in nature and low-brow in terms of comedy conventions. The representation of the body is of utmost importance in this cycle for at least three reasons. First, the abject bodies and life-threatening actions of jiangshis, or reanimated corpses, serve as a main source of horror essential to the sub-genre. Second, the struggle between jianghshis and jiangshi-fighters as bodies-in-action accounts for much of the physical excitement as well as comic effects. Third, using magic and martial arts skills to tackle the revenants, the typical Taoist priest/master figure proves his professionalism with his well-trained, agile body; paradoxically, framed in the comic-cum-horror narrative and involving slapstick elements, the representation of this curious professionalism, traditional and Chinese in connotation, remains tongue-in-cheek. Vampire and zombie films are often interpreted with reference to various kinds of social anxieties. Hong Kong jianghsi films have been explored in relation to Hong Kong people’s troubled psyche during the late colonial period (Dale Hudson) and the articulation of a comforting Chinese cultural nationalism (Stephanie Lam). Instead of simply reading the jianghsi cycle allegorically, the present paper focuses on the representation of the body and especially how it contributes to the aesthetics of this comic horror sub-genre. With regard to the central character of the Taoist priest and his disciples or associates, this paper investigates how the uncanny professionalism presented can be related not only to the question of cultural identity but also Hong Kong martial-arts film-makers’ own professional background and the development of kungfu film comedies. Proceeding to the early 2000s and taking Tsui Hark’s Vampire Hunters (2002) as a prime example, I will further discuss the perceived decline of Hong Kong jiangshi films in relation to the changes involving the image of jiangshi, comic routines, and professionalism in the vampire-fighters. It is hoped that through revisiting the once hugely popular jiangshi cycle this study will contribute to a better understanding of the history of Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
|Publication status||Published - Dec 2013|